New research in the United States has found that staying active in old age, whether exercising or just doing housework, could help maintain memory and thinking skills, even in those with signs of dementia.
Performed by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, the new study looked at 454 seniors, 191 of whom had dementia and 263 had none.
Participants received physical examinations and were asked to perform reasoning and memory tests every year for 20 years. In addition, an average of two years before death, participants were also asked to use an accelerometer to measure their physical activity for a period of seven days.
Using the data collected, the researchers were able to calculate an average daily activity score that was measured in counts per day. The overall mean was 160,000 counts per day, although people without dementia had an average of 180,000 counts per day, while people with dementia averaged 130,000 counts per day.
As all participants also agreed to donate their brains to research on their deaths, with the average age of 91, the researchers could also examine donated brain tissue to look for lesions and biomarkers of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
The results, published in the journal Neurology, showed that higher levels of daily movement were linked to better thinking and memory skills, with a small increase in activity appearing to reduce the risk of dementia.
Those who had better motor skills, which aid in movement and coordination, also had better thinking and memory skills.
Physical activity also appeared to improve test results even after investigators took into account the severity of the brain injuries of the participants, with the team discovering that the relationship was consistent both in people with dementia and in people who did not have dementia.
"We measured the levels of physical activity in the study participants on average two years before their deaths and then examined the donated brain tissue after death and found that a more active lifestyle can have a protective effect on the brain, "said Dr. Aron S. Buchman, lead author of the study. "People who moved more had better thinking and memory skills than those who were more sedentary and did not move much."
The team noted that although exercise can help protect the brain as we age, more research is needed to investigate this relationship.
"Exercise is an inexpensive way to improve health, and our study shows that it can have a protective effect on the brain," Buchman said. "But it's important to note that our study shows no cause and effect."
"It may also be possible that as people lose memory and thinking skills, they reduce their physical activity," he added. "More studies are needed to determine whether moving more is actually beneficial to the brain." JB
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